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UN Special Envoy Replies to CNA Interview Criticism

(Photo: Special Envoy Heyzer with farmers in the dry zone of Burma (2009))

Following criticism of comments made during an interview with Channel News Asia, the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Dr Noeleen Heyzer, has replied to selected questions posed by the Democratic Voice of Burma.

DVB outlined the context of the debate in an article published earlier today.

Firstly, please can you clarify your comments concerning “power-sharing” made to the Channel News Asia’s May Wong on Feb. 2 2022? It is clear that it is the interviewer who introduces the concept, yet you talk of all sides party to the conflict “negotiating what this power-sharing looks like”. Was this an accidental allusion to the concept?

The situation in Myanmar is dire and there is an urgency to stop the brutality. In these circumstances, the reference to “power-sharing” generated strong reactions, especially given ongoing killings and the gravity of the situation which is deteriorating one-year on since the military takeover. 

It is unfortunate that one of the interview questions suggesting I had “previously broached or suggested” the term “power-sharing” as a solution to the political crisis was taken out of context. Let me explain.

In late February 2021, just after the military took over and long before my appointment as Special Envoy, a small webinar discussion was organized by the Asia Peace and Reconciliation Council (APRC) to brainstorm possible ways out of the situation where the military just took control from the civilian government. Power-sharing was discussed as one option by many participants, including me. I would like to highlight the term “power-sharing” was used in my personal capacity almost 12 months ago when many were independently exploring strategies to resolve the crisis, and not in my role as UN Special Envoy. 

I regret and apologise for engaging with the question. I want to stress “power-sharing” has never been used in my capacity as Special Envoy. 

You talked about the military being in control in your interview with CNA? Some analysts have argued that the military has never had less control than it does now, and they are in fact out of control, rather than in control.  What do you mean when you say that the military is in control?

My intention was to explain the military is in control of forces, including the use of arms and weapons, that are exposing the population of Myanmar to human rights abuses and atrocities. This was not meant to disregard the strength of the resistance movement, nor to confer legitimacy to the military. 

We need to ensure they stop the violence and repression. The legitimate role of the military is to protect the peoples’ lives and livelihoods based on the will of the people.  

What is clear is that no one currently is in full control and the people continue to suffer. While Myanmar faces another potential COVID-19 surge, requiring all citizens to come together to fight the pandemic, its public healthcare is in disarray and the humanitarian crisis has been compounded by ongoing fighting, including aerial bombardments, which has disproportionately affected women and children.

247 CSOs operating within Burma yesterday criticized three sentiments expressed during your CNA interview, namely: the idea of “negotiation” with the military, the idea of “power-sharing” —addressed above— and your statement that the “military is in power”. The organizations raise the point that such a strategy may allow a continuation of the military’s gross impunity and remove the rights of victims to access justice and reparations.   

I have read the statement in which their concerns were raised, stressing that the junta cannot be trusted to negotiate and will continue with their brutality, and therefore cannot be a solution to the current political, human rights and humanitarian crisis. I take the points raised in the statement seriously. In fact, some CSOs have privately sent me their analysis and I really appreciate it. I will have further sessions to listen more to. Some of the organisations have asked to speak with me and I have agreed.

Why is ASEAN — which has never successfully mediated a major political crisis amongst members states — been singled out as the saviour of Burma? Has something recently changed in the bloc that makes it interested in stepping into the affairs of another member state?

The magnitude of the crisis in Myanmar and suffering that is widening with serious regional implications requires a robust regional response. Myanmar is an important member of ASEAN which is why the Heads of ASEAN member states have taken responsibility, issuing the Five-Point Consensus. 

Their approach to solve the crisis is strongly supported by UN member states. In its latest press statement, members of the Security Council reiterated their full support for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) role in facilitating a peaceful solution in the interest of the people of Myanmar and their livelihoods. They reiterated their calls for the swift and full implementation of ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus. 

The same Security Council statement has also underlined my role to maintain communication and engage intensively with all relevant parties in Myanmar. They also encouraged the complementarity of my work to the work of ASEAN. As I have repeated, this needs to be in line with the will of the people of Myanmar.

I have been amplifying the need for a robust international response grounded on a unified regional effort. From the outset, I have been in close contact with all ASEAN leaders, urging for immediate action and cooperation to prevent further deterioration of the situation in Myanmar and address the desperate needs of Myanmar’s people, particularly the most vulnerable. The UN has committed to working closely with ASEAN in supporting a Myanmar-led process that is inclusive and reflective of the will of the people.  

As UNSE, what is your message to the people of Myanmar, who are suffering unimaginably from war, displacement, hunger, COVID-19, and the removal of all human rights?

At the end of the day, the people hold the strongest power. My role as Special Envoy is to support the people to achieve their aspirations for peace, democracy, unity and justice. I humbly ask the people of Myanmar to let me listen to them. Please tell me how to best support you.

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